Friday, 23 April 2010

Rioja at Harrods

If someone had told me a couple of years ago that a couple of years hence I'd be attending wine tastings at Harrods I don't know what I would have done. But there I was, in the poshest shop in the world, making pronouncements about Riojas. In fact, it was a pretty good deal - £25 a ticket, for all the wine, canapes and jamón you could want. Imagine an upmarket happy hour.

I began the session by tasting wines I considered affordable - the Harrods Rioja 2006, for instance, at just over a tenner - in the hopes of taking advantage of the store's one-night-only discount to pick up a couple of bottles as I left. Described as "light and easy drinking", my notes for this one read "dry", rather abruptly, but it was my first taste of the evening and perhaps my palate needed working on. After a dud or two I was tempted into trying Artesa Organic 2007 (pictured below left), which was lovely, with plenty of cherry going on, proving it's not the age that counts, it's what you do with it. Not sure what effect the organic-ness had on the taste, and since I doubt they keep non-organic vines to help us compare I suppose we'll never know.

Shortly afterwards I tossed aside my affordability rule and lunged for some very special Riojas indeed. They included La Alta Gran Reserva 890 1995, which normally retails at £115 a bottle. I know! What struck me about his one, which I recorded as "earthy and dry", and other similarly "traditional" Riojas available for tasting, was how light they were, both in colour and density. For some reason I'd always assumed the older and grander the wine the fuller-bodied it would turn out to be. I've since learned that the opposite is true, at least when it comes to Rioja. Traditional styles are aged for longer, usually in American barrels, which impart that earthy spiciness, and their colour is more like Ribena than the rich, almost black-red wines of the "modern" style, which generally rest in French oak for less time, to produce rich, dense and "upfront" fruit flavours.

The king of the old-school Riojas at this tasting was the Monte Real Gran Reserva 1964 - my parents would have been teenagers when these grapes were harvested. I noted a "rusty" colour, a "thin" mouthfeel, and gorgeous flavours of mint, bourbon and oak, with a long finish. If only I had a spare £135. I KNOW!

In betwixt the affordable and the, er, less affordable wines were a bunch of what might be describable as quality mid-priced bottles. I should mention the Miguel Merino Gran Reserva 2000 ("smooth, chocolatey and light-bodied") and the La Alta Arana 2001 ("vanilla, soft"). I was also pleased to see an old favourite of mine from our trip to Rioja last year, the Finca Valpiedra Cantos de Valpiedra 2006, and picked up a bottle post-haste at the on-the-night tasting price.

Then, towards the end of evening, as I was congratulating myself on having spent relatively little, I got chatting to the guy from Bodegas Ramon Bilbao and was seduced by his Mirto 2005 (right), whose description includes blackberries, smoked wood, toasted bread and nutmeg. Even with the discount, I spent a fair whack of money on this bottle, avid reader, but I spent it for you, since just as soon as I find an event, anniversary or celebration worthy of these grapes (my 100th birthday?) I'll be writing stuff down and posting it here.

Harrods do these tastings
monthly, focusing on a different region or style each session, and I can tell you never has posh binge drinking been so appealing.

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